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Sociology of Health and Illness

The sociology of health and illness is the study of the interaction between society and health.

Sociologists may be concerned at "how social life impacts morbidity and mortality rates and how morbidity and mortality rates impact society."¹ Those who work in this field also looks at health and illness in relation to social institutions such as the family, work, school and religion. It is also important to study as well as the "causes of disease and illness, reasons for seeking particular types of care, and patient compliance and noncompliance".¹

Health, or lack of health was once attributed to the biological or natural conditions around someone. Sociologists have demonstrated that the "spread of diseases is heavily influenced by the socioeconomic status of individuals, ethnic traditions or beliefs, and other cultural factors."²

Sociology of health and illness looks at three areas³:

  1. The conceptualization
  2. The study of measurement and social distribution
  3. The justification of patterns in health and illness

Patterns of health and illness vary immeasurably across time and space and within different types of societies. Sociologist Kevin White explains that a sociological perspective of an illness would provide insight on what external factors caused the demographics who contracted the disease to become ill.²

Sociology of health and illness also requires a global approach of analysis because the influence of societal factors varies throughout the world. On average, as Gordon explains, "life expectancies are considerably higher in developed, rather than developing or undeveloped, societies and there has historically been a long-term decline in mortality within industrialized societies."³ There are different factors that sociologists look at depending on the community. Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America all have different, intersecting factors that affect the relationship between society and health.

Sociologists of health and illness also look at things such as industrial pollution, environmental pollution, accidents at work, and stress related diseases. Sociologist Marshall Gordon notes growing trends in "the studies of epidemiology show that autonomy and control in the workplace are vital factors in the etiology of heart disease."³




1. Mechanic, D. (1990). The role of sociology in health affairs. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from

2. White, Kevin (2002). An introduction to the sociology of health and illness. SAGE Publishing. pp. 4–5. ISBN 0-7619-6400-2.

3. Marshall, Gordon. "Health and illness, sociology of." A Dictionary of Sociology. 1998. 30 Nov. 2009.

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